Foreign Affairs and Defence

Part of Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 5:32 pm on 28th June 1983.

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Photo of Mr Robert Harvey Mr Robert Harvey , Clwyd South West 5:32 pm, 28th June 1983

I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the constituency of Clwyd, South-West. It has one of the finest and proudest farming traditions in Wales and the United Kingdom, and has enormous potential for the expansion of small businesses and tourism. It has an industrial tradition that should provide a major incentive to new industries looking for promising locations in the economic revival now under way.

I pay tribute also to my two distinguished predecessors — Mr. Geraint Morgan who represented the Denbigh part of the division for 23 years with great distinction and who was one of the hardest working Members, and Mr. Tom Ellis, who represented the Wrexham part of the division and who was well respected by both sides of the House. He will be much missed.

I welcome the Government's continuing commitment, as expressed yesterday and today, to the defence of the Falklands. There can be few hon. Members who doubted at the time that the Government's course last year in sending the task force to the Falklands and in re-taking the islands from the Argentine aggressor was wholly justified before the bar of world opinion and history.

We should remind ourselves of the historic principles for which we stood in taking that action. They were, first and foremost, that we as a nation uphold the principle that territorial disputes should be resolved through peaceful means, not through the use of force; that aggression must not be seen to pay; that it must be resisted; and that unless Great Britain, as one of the foremost members of the Western community, was prepared to uphold that principle where its territory was concerned the world would be a less safe place.

I can think of at least three territorial disputes in Latin America alone—the one between Argentina and Chile over the Beagle channel, the one between Chile, Bolivia and Peru over the Arica strip and the one between Venezuela and Guyana—which might have come to the boil if Argentina had succeeded in proving that aggression pays over the Falklands.

By dispelling any Argentine illusions on that score, Great Britain has paid an unrequited service to Latin America.

The second principle that Great Britain upheld was that the fate of her territories should be decided by the free choice of their inhabitants. We had to maintain the right to self-determination, no matter that the numbers involved were small, within the limits of what was practically possible. The Falklanders had the right freely to insist upon remaining a part of Great Britain and to reject the claims upon them of an unstable, turbulent nation 400 miles away, which at that time would not even recognise the right of its people to self-determination.

Those were the principles for which we fought and for which we were right to fight, and for upholding which the world owes us a debt of gratitude. We did not fight for the retention of those islands in perpetuity, regardless of the feelings of the inhabitants. I feel sure that the Government will not commit themselves to the diversion of substantial resources from this country to the indefinite defence of the islands without first ensuring that every possible avenue for the peaceful settlement of the Falklands dispute is exhausted.

Argentina must be left in no doubt that Great Britain is ready to pay the price for the indefinite defence of the islands if the Argentine Government persist in their stubborn refusal to accept that hostilities have ended. I am equally convinced that the Government must, and will, show a willingness to be flexible if Argentina shows signs of flexibility. If it wants to talk, let us talk. Argentina knows now that it will never gain the Falklands through aggression. We made it clear that any settlement that does not take account of the Falklanders' interests is simply not on.

Where does that leave the prospect for such talks? It leaves them with a starting point. If Argentina can accept that in principle we are committed not to perpetual British sovereignty over the Falklands but to upholding the interests of the Falklanders, there may be the germ of a formula by which both sides can commit themselves to respecting the Falklanders' final say in the matter. Argentina, as has been said, is moving towards democratic elections in October followed in January by the restoration of civil rule.

There may be hope that the experience of military rule over the past few years and of the Falklands trauma will induce a greater sense of responsibility and of the politically attainable in Argentina's new civilian rulers. For the Falklanders there may begin to be attractions in the prospect not of any change in sovereignty over them—the bitterness of a year ago will take many years to overcome — but in co-operation with Argentina to provide an economic future for the islands.

Hon. Members will be well aware of the promising economic prospects for the islands suggested in the Shackleton report once the uncertainty is lifted from them. Only through economic co-operation ultimately with Argentina can the Falklands hope to be developed economically, and only through co-operation can Argentina one day hope to persuade the Falklanders that their future may lie elsewhere than with Great Britain.

By showing a continuing readiness to talk, Britain can only enhance the prestige that it has gained through the Falklands crisis, adding a third principle—a readiness to negotiate peacefully — to the principles of self-determination and resistance to aggression, which are already established. It is worth continuing to try. I am confident that the Government will do so. I thank the House for its indulgence in listening to me today.